Chanakyaniti, Urdu couplet and ancient Tamil poem in Sitharaman's marathon speech

New Delhi


Nirmala Sitharaman, India's first full-time woman Finance Minister, made a striking picture as she presented her maiden budget in Parliament on Friday. Attired in purple silk saree, Sitharaman spoke in English with occasional sprinkling of broken Hindi in her over two-hour budget speech, and on several occasions repeated her sentence to drive home the point.

"Karya purusha karena lakshyam sampadyate" (with determined human efforts, the task will surely be completed)," she quoted a Chanakyaniti Sutra right at the beginning of her speech and sort pardon of the House for her pronunciation as she read out the Urdu couplet, "Yakeen ho to raasta nikalta hai, hawa ki ot bhi lekar chirag jalta hai (A way is found if there is belief as a lamp keeps burning despite the wind).

There was silence among the Opposition benches, in sharp contrast to earlier budget presentations when they would drown out the Finance Minister's speech with heckling and protests. The silence was possibly because of the massive drubbing the Opposition parties suffered in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections and the fact that the Narendra Modi government has returned to power with an even bigger mandate.

The only time the Opposition benches showed some kind of protest was when Sitharaman proposed an additional excise duty and cess of Rs 1 per litre each on petrol and diesel for infrastructure projects. There was no vociferous shouting, but only a murmur of protest.

Sitharaman's budget proposals on issues, ranging from women's empowerment to startups, and on taxation, were greeted with appreciative thumping of the desks by the treasury benches, including by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was seen seated alongside UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi listening with rapt attention.

When the Finance Minister quoted from Swami Vivekananda, to stress on women empowerment, and reiterated that India's tradition is steeped in "Nari tu Narayani" -- the woman is a goddess -, there was loud appreciation all around. Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani was seen smilingly thumping her desk in appreciation.

Sitharaman recalled Swami Vivekananda's words that "there is no chance of welfare in the world unless the condition of women in India is improved." Sitharaman announced a loan facility of Rs 1 lakh for women self-help group members through the Mudra scheme, among other measures for women's empowerment.

Sitharaman also quoted from a Tamil poem of the Sangam era, to explain the taxation policy. DMK MPs Dayanidhi Maran and A. Raja were seen smiling in appreciation when she spoke in Tamil and explained the meaning of the stanzas from the poem Purananooru.

Giving the meaning in English, Sitharaman said: "Just a few mounds of rice from paddy that is harvested from a small piece of land would be sufficient for the elephant. But what if the elephant itself walks into the field to eat? It would eat much lesser than it would trample with its foot," to smiles all around. Similarly, if people paid their taxes properly there would be no need for the government to get into it, she said.

Sitharaman also spoke a line in halting Hindi, about the government's proposal to help artisans. She said she was speaking in Hindi in order to get the message across to the people concerned. There was loud appreciation from the House.

Earlier, Sitharaman did away with the tradition of carrying the budget papers to Parliament in a briefcase and instead brought them in a red folded cloth, in traditional style.

According to Chief Economic Advisor Krishnamurthy Subramanian, "it is a 'bahi khata' (ledger) and symbolises India's departure from the slavery of Western thought".

Sitharaman's parents were in Parliament to witness their daughter present the Union Budget.IANS